Holders SL Benfica will thoroughly examine the UEFA Futsal Cup credentials of ASD Città di Montesilvano C/5 in the debutants' first appearance in the semi-finals on Friday.
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The masters of the 2011 UEFA Futsal Cup finals meet the novices in Friday's second semi-final featuring SL Benfica and ASD Città di Montesilvano C/5 in Almaty.
An encounter between trophy holders and competition debutants seems a mismatch in terms of European know-how, yet no club has managed to defend this title since Playas de Castellón FS won the inaugural editions in 2002 and 2003. A sobering statistic for Benfica coach Paulo Fernandes, who moved from Sporting Clube de Portugal after the 2010 finals.
"Of the four finalists, we are the team with the most knowledge of this stage of the competition and that means there is a bigger onus on us to perform," said Fernandes. "We did our job last time and we will try to do it again."
The Eagles' UEFA Futsal Cup triumph last season in Lisbon was their second appearance in the final after losing in 2004 to Interviú Madrid, one of only two teams ever to have beaten them in the competition alongside MFK Dinamo Moskva. If such pedigree is to be challenged by the underdogs from Italy's Adriatic coast, then Fulvio Colini's men will want to maintain the scoring form that marked the newcomers' progress through the main and elite rounds.
Montesilvano scored 28 goals in six games, with ten coming from Cleyton Baptistella, including five in their last match against AGBU Ararat Nicosia FC. A more eye-catching indicator of the club's development, according to captain Marcio Forte, is that they pipped both 2008 winners MFK Sinara Ekaterinburg and 2010 bronze medallists Araz Naxçivan to a place in Kazakhstan in the elite round in Russia.
"This team has grown so much over the last two seasons, we have become a proper team and have developed a winning mentality," Forte said of a side who clinched their first Italian championship last term. "We have taken it step by step, but it was a massive achievement to overcome Ekaterinburg in the elite round and now we are going to give it everything – not just for our sake, but for that of Italian futsal."
Coach Colini picked up the theme of national pride; Montesilvano are Italy's second straight semi-final representatives after Baptistella's previous club Luparense C/5 last year. "It is a great debut for us, not just at the finals, but in European football all season," he said. "However, that isn't true of Italian futsal, because Italian clubs and the national team have competed at the top level consistently in recent years. Now the goal is to maintain that image of Italian futsal."
Benfica have kept up appearances alright in 2010/11 – unbeaten in the league, they also won all three elite round Group A games. Yet while Fernandes touted hosts Kairat Almaty as a potential title threat, captain Pedro Costa concentrated on Montesilvano, saying: "We aren't thinking about the final, we are only thinking about our first opponents. We are fully prepared for these finals and are going to do everything necessary. Our focus is firmly on Friday."